The more the whip disempowers individual MPs, the weaker the party looks collectively. Hence the whole will be much stronger if it exerts less control over its parts, enabling members to show their individual strengths, troublesome though they may sometimes be.

Julian Baggini

Rebel with a whip

Author Julian Baggini wrote an op ed for the Guardian in which he calls on Jeremy Corbyn, should he, as expected, emerge as the winner of the Labour leadership contest, to ban the use of the whip. The whip is the official in a parliamentary party caucus who purpose is to ensure party discipline. The degree of whipping varies from one legislature to another. In the UK, whipping is mostly limited to ensuring MPs are present to vote and that they vote according to official party policy, while in Canada, the powers of the whip are far more extensive — many would say even excessive.

There is a lot that I could comment on in Baggini’s piece — which I can only politely describe as “bonkers”, but he does raise one fair point. Throughout his 32 years as a backbench MP, Jeremy Corbyn has been a serial rebel who has defied the Labour whip over 500 times. As stated above, in the UK, the whip applies almost exclusively to voting, which means Corbyn has voted against his own party (both while Labour was in Opposition and when they were in Government) over 500 times (which is completely unheard of here in Canada). Since he, as an MP, had little regard for the whip, how can he demand obedience from his caucus once he is leader?

It doesn’t matter if he defied the whip on principle, because of pressure from his constituents, or to spite party leadership he disliked — the fact is, he had to problem rebelling. Corbyn as a leadership candidate has few supporters in caucus — probably fewer than 15 out of 232 actually support him. As Baggini notes, “Corbyn would be a contemptible hypocrite if he were to try to crack the whip that he himself so gleefully defied.”

I will agree with Baggini that his past behaviour as an MP puts Corbyn, should he emerge as the winner on September 12, in a very awkward position. I don’t think ditching the whip will change that reality at all.


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